Home / Our news and views / First report on EU maritime security strategy indicates lacklustre results, as threats from irregular migration and terrorism mount

First report on EU maritime security strategy indicates lacklustre results, as threats from irregular migration and terrorism mount


LONDON – One year after the launch in November 2014 of the EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) action plan, the European Commission has received its first “report card” on the strategy’s implementation – and the results are decidedly mixed, if not worrisome.

There have been some positive developments for a couple of the strategy’s five work strands – but they are the easiest to do and the least threatening ones to national sovereignty. But progress in the two strands most needed for hiking the member states’ collective security is still stymied by national reluctance to share information and to work together in a harmonised way. Just as bad, barely more than half of the 28 EU nations submitted their report to the Commission on how they are implementing the strategy.

Of particular worry is the member states’ poor understanding of cyber security in the maritime sector and their inability to carry out global maritime risk management. So acute is the Commission’s concern about the latter that it will launch in 2016 a contract to do risk analysis for Europe’s coast guards. This will complement the Council’s post-Paris attack request to the Commission to draw up measures for creating a European Coast Guard.

The Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG-MARE) synthesized the first implementation report from the national feedback and handed over the results to the office of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 4 December for transmission to the Council. Only 17 of the 28 member states sent in their implementation results to Brussels. Of these, three-quarters outline a comprehensive picture of national maritime security aspects, while the remaining quarter offer only a narrower picture.

Some idea of the maritime challenges facing the member states was reviewed by a range of experts during the Transport Security Expo conference, which took place here on 2-3 December.

Referring to the implementation report’s overall results, speaker Christian Dupont, deputy head of maritime security at the Commission’s transport directorate, DG-MOVE, said many of the member state are struggling with cyber security, a challenge highlighted in most of their reports. “Many out there simply don’t understand what is required,” he said.

The EUMSS comprises five work strands and some 130 sub-actions. Most of the national reporting focused on Strand 1 – external action – and a description of how the member states are cooperating with EU and international initiatives and organisations. A common priority in this area are EU projects focused on search-and-rescue at sea. No surprises there.

The same predictability concerns Strand 3 – capability development – where the member states describe efforts to enhance dual-use capabilities and procurement such as ships that could be used by either the military or police/coast guard units. Several EU countries aim to boost the links between their centres of excellence and research institutes and EU institutions. Sweden and the Netherlands, for example, say they will shift some of their marine pollution/ incident response capabilities into EU-level mechanisms.

The report’s findings on Strand 5 – maritime security research and innovation, education and training – are also mundane. Predictably, it says an inventory of R&D groups and network of experts involved in maritime security research has been created. However, as Dupont pointedly observed: “It remains to be seen whether military and civilian researchers will be willing to work together.”

That civ-mil interface or, rather, the lack of it lies at the heart of the EUMSS’ two most important work areas: maritime awareness, surveillance and information sharing (Strand 2) and risk management, protection of critical maritime infrastructure and crisis response (Strand 3).

“Due to the migrant crisis, there has been much more cooperation between the EU’s SatCen, Frontex [the EU’s external border agency) and the European Space Agency,” Duport said, referring to Strand 2. “And all the member states say they have extensively participated in initiatives at national, regional and EU levels.”

Those initiatives include the EU’s Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) for maritime situational awareness, Eurosur (the EU’s external borders information-exchange platform) and the Integrated Maritime Data Environment of EMSA, the European Maritime Safety Agency.

However, he also noted that Strand 2 is where the most work is needed, i.e., on civ-mil information exchanges and on exchanges between civil maritime authorities and law enforcement authorities (LEAs), and between the latter and police and customs.

“Unfortunately, this is the same old story,” said Dupont. “We are trying to change the principle from need-to-know principle to need-to-share, which is not easy because you have to define precise rules in advance. Every military stakeholder demands the strictest rules because that is their operational environment.”

     THE UPSHOT: One overarching problem with the report is that the EUMSS action plan itself contains no measurable indicators on implementation. Indeed, very few of the 130 sub-actions have been formulated in a measurable way. Thus, it is not possible to do much quantitative assessment of implementation.
     While Dupont said there is more cooperation between SatCen, Frontex, ESA and EMSA, one would expect that between European-level agencies. Where the essential cooperation must occur is between the member states themselves and between the latter and those European agencies. That flow is still way below par. How will its improvement be measured?
     This is not an abstract issue. Maritime surveillance data translates into border security.
     As Dave Sloggett, British intelligence expert and visiting research fellow at Oxford University, told the conference: “If we think about the way terrorism is spreading, there is the potential for moving chemical weapons from North Africa into Europe, particularly within migrant flows – and that flow is not relenting. If you war-game how the jihadists move around Libya, then one quickly sees the threats to Gibraltar and merchant ships.”
     Indeed, while maritime-related terrorist incidents have fallen off in recent years, should can be no complacency here. As Europe locks down on land, the terrorists will turn their attention to softer targets such as maritime attacks, from above and below water. Ports and other close-to-shore sites are obvious targets. But so would be large passenger ships and supertankers – which could be targeted either for destruction or as the vector to destroy other targets.

About Brooks Tigner

Brooks Tigner is editor & chief policy analyst at SECURITY EUROPE. He can be reached at: bt@securityeurope.info

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